Understanding Basic Bible Study

The scriptures tell us in Second Timothy to “Study to show ourselves approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” Once an individual makes that first step to accept Christ as his Lord and Savior he begins a journey of spiritual growth that is orchestrated by careful study and application of scripture. Unfortunately, many people fail to grow in their walk with God because of their lack of understanding how to study the Bible.
The purpose of this research paper is to examine the need for Bible study and to find practical ways in which one can begin a journey of Biblical understanding. The basic thesis is to understand Bible study through careful exploration of various Bible study methods. As we begin this study may we do so with an open mind and heart and may we truly grasp how we are to study the Bible.
Before one can begin adequate Bible study he must discover his own presupposition of the Bible. In other words, how do you view the Bible before you even approach the Bible? For believers, our presupposition is based on the fact of inspiration. A true disciple of Christ cannot deny the fact that the Bible is inspired by God. Second Timothy 3:16 states: “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” Understanding that the Bible is inspired by God is essential to Christian discipleship. David LeGrand, former professor of Piedmont Baptist College said, “Inspiration is the imparting process. The act of the Holy Spirit working in, on, or through the prophets, apostles, and writers enabling them to preach and write in a trustworthy manner the truth they received from God.” Second Peter 1:21 proves this fact as it says: “For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” This moving basically means to be carried along or to be inspired. The word inspiration in Second Timothy means: “God breathed”. The Scriptures came from the very mouth of God delivered by the carrying along of the human writers of the Bible. In order for one to truly be a student of the Bible he must see the Bible as inspired.
In John Phillips book, “Bible Explorers Guide”, he mentions the golden rule of Biblical interpretation. This rule states: “If the plain sense makes common sense, seek no other sense.” The basic understanding of this rule is to make your interpretation of the Bible as simple as possible. Don’t read things into the Scripture and seek the most literal interpretation possible.
In any study it is important that terms are clearly defined. When referring to Bible study there are six basic terms that all of us should understand. The terms are given to us in David LeGrand’s notes on Biblical Interpretation as follows:
1. Revelation = The informing, or unveiling. Divine discourse of things that could not be known otherwise.
2. Inspiration = The imparting process. The act of the Holy Spirit working in, on, or through the prophets, apostles, and writers enabling them to preach and write in a trustworthy manner the truth they received from God.
3. Interpretation = The science of discovering the meaning of the Holy Scriptures.
4. Illumination = The function of the Holy Spirit to enlighten and make the Christian capable of comprehension and understanding the interpretation of the Bible.
5. Principlization = Rule of thumb to make a decision.
6. Application = Obedience: do it now!
These basic terms are important in understanding how one arrives at finding the truth of Scripture and how he applies that truth to his life. Connecting these terms with the basic golden rule of Bible study (as given to us by John Phillips) will give you the essential groundwork for understanding how to view and study the Bible.
John Phillips gives us three basic ways that we are to interpret the Bible:
1. Interpret Literally
2. Interpret Culturally
3. Interpret Grammatically
Using these simple rules will help us discover the most common sense approach to understanding scripture. Let’s take some time to look at these three basic rules in more detail.
The first rule of interpretation is to Interpret Literally. Often times people make the mistake of reading into scripture and forcing it to mean something that it really does not mean. In our desire to be intellectual we will often times seek a deeper meaning and try to find hidden messages in the Bible. The Bible has no ‘hidden messages’ it means what it says. Not all Scripture can be strictly interpreted literally, however. John Phillips writes: “Before deciding that a passage of Scripture is figurative, we must first examine the literal meaning. Only when the literal interpretation proves to be either absurd or completely out of harmony with the context or the theme should we accept a figurative interpretation.”
The second rule of interpretation is to Interpret Culturally. It is obvious that the manuscript of the Bible was not written in modern times. Therefore, we must take into consideration the cultural setting of the particular passage of Scripture that we are examining. John Phillips states: “For an intelligent understanding of some parts of the Bible we need to know something about the geography and climate of the country and the customs and history of the times.”
The third rule of basic Biblical interpretation is to Interpret Grammatically. It is very profitable for a student of the Bible to have some understanding of the original languages of the Bible; however, it is not a necessity for applying the scripture to your life. As one approaches the Bible he must make sure that he understands the meaning of words and how it fits in the grammatical structure. In his book, All about Bible Study, Herbert Lockyer writes: “No other book in all the world can match the Bible for such exquisite gems of thought found in so many priceless words.” Each word of the Bible should be examined closely in order to grasp the full meaning of the text. As one reads the Bible he or she should do so by carefully observing each word and meditating on it. It is not about the quantity of what we read but the quality of what we read and examine in the text of Scripture that we are studying.
In understanding how to study the Bible we must keep in mind the golden rule of Bible study, basic terms of understanding, the basic rules of interpretation, and the fact that the Bible is completely inspired by God. As we examine this subject further, we must also understand the different types of Bible study that can be used to fully understand and apply the Scripture. There are many types of Bible study methods. In his book, Methodical Bible study, Robert A. Traina gives the following nine different types of Bible study methods:
1. Inductive Bible Study
2. Direct, Independent Bible Study
3. Literary Bible Study
4. Psychological Bible Study
5. Constructive Bible Study
6. Comprehensive Bible Study
7. Sincere Bible Study
8. Assimilative Bible Study
9. Reverent Bible Study
These different methods of Bible study may not be for everyone. Each individual must find the method that is most comfortable to him.
A more practical approach to various Bible study methods is found in All about Bible Study by Herbert Lockyer. In his book he gives basic information on practical Bible study methods. These types of Bible study includes: the study of the Bible as a whole, study by books, study by chapters, study by paragraphs, verses, phrases, words, study by doctrines, study by biography, names, and numbers. In looking at the Bible as a whole, Lockyer, shares with us that attention should be given to the unity of authorship, structure, doctrine, prophecy, numbers, spirituality, and the Messianic. It is also important that each word of the Bible is kept in its proper context. Consideration of where a particular scripture fits within the chapter, book, section, and the entire Bible is very important in gaining an adequate interpretation and understanding of the text being studied. In keeping within the context of a particular passage, Dr. Tim White of Piedmont Baptist College states, “We must answer the question, what did this passage mean to the original audience to whom it was written?” Before you can make an application for your life you must find what the original meaning and purpose of the text was all about. In whatever Bible study method you choose, you should always consider the context of the passage and the also keep in consideration the Bible as a whole.
While evaluating various Bible study methods, you cannot avoid looking at the modern use of technology for Bible study. We live in an age where no one has an excuse when it comes to Bible study. There are hundreds of books, commentaries, and many versions of the Bible that are at our disposal. In this internet age we also have unlimited Bible study resources made available to us on-line. One such website to examine is http://www.blueletterbible.org. This website provides tools to search Scripture, and find the meaning of words, along with many commentaries for your study. The mission statement of this resource states: “Our mission is to facilitate in-depth study of God’s Word through an on-line interactive reference library continuously updated from the teachings and commentaries of selected pastors and teachers who hold to the conservative, historical Christian faith.” This is just one of the many resources available to enhance your Bible study experience. Using the gift of technology is one of the many methods that one can use for effective Bible study.
There is one other Bible study method that seems to stand out above the rest. It comes from a Latin word called: Lectio Divina. The term Lectio Divina means ‘divine reading.’ In the book Soul Shaping by Jim L. Wilson, the author describes this type of Bible study in more detail. “This type of meditation include five steps. First, I read the selected text. I focus as I read, trying to hear God’s still small voice. I look for words that jump out off the page as I read. I circle them. I repeat them. Next, I try to visualize the words that impressed me. The third step is to begin an honest conversation with God, using scripture as my guide. Then, I repeat these words and allow God to whisper encouragement into my heart. Lastly, as my day ends, I consider how God spoke to me throughout the day. Through this process I experience God.” The entire goal of Bible study is to hear from God, to understand his will for our lives. This method of meditation is essential for really grasping what God has to say to us through His word. Careful examination and mediation is the key to effective Bible study.
As we near the conclusion of our research there is one more area that should be addressed when it comes to Bible study. There are some things that should be avoided when it comes to Bible study. If you go about studying the wrong way it is easy to fall prey to various false doctrines and distortions of the Bible. Dave LeGrand gives us three dangers to avoid:
1. Misinterpretation
2. Misapplication
3. Dislocation
The first of these, misinterpretation, is one that many people fall into. To misinterpret the Bible refers to giving Scripture the wrong meaning. This is usually the result of partial interpretation. Often times we tend to look for Scripture to justify what we do or what we believe. By doing this, we fall into the trap of trying to make Scripture mean something that it really does not mean. This is a danger that must be avoided. Another danger to avoid is misapplication. Misapplication is the applying of one Scripture to that which belongs to another. An example would be attempting to apply Israel’s promises to the church. This is why it so important that we look at the Bible as whole and avoid taking Scripture out of context. The final danger to avoid is dislocation. This is taking a passage entirely out of its setting or context. There have been entire denominations formed as a result of pulling Scripture out of context. Again, you must look at the entirety of the Bible in order to get an adequate interpretation of the text that you are studying.
In conclusion, we find that understanding how to study the Bible will go a long way in helping to make real life applications of the Bible. As you begin your journey of studying God’s Word be sure to take into account the various methods of Bible study. Be sure to keep an open mind and heart as you seek the application that God desires of you. Applying the various Bible study methods to your life will greatly enhance your understanding of scripture and your relationship with God. Of all that we have researched and learned, never forget the golden rule of Bible study: “If the plain sense makes common sense, seek no other sense.”

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